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 The outlook is sunny
Sustainability is another current and future focus for the international travel community

The outlook is sunny

We are in the New Year, hurray! As 2024 begins, it is good to reflect on international travel in 2023 and to also look ahead.


The global travel industry courageously navigated the pandemic’s severe ramifications and continues to demonstrate tremendous resilience post-COVID-19.

 It’s been nearly four years since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, swiftly followed by travel bans and restrictions and an inevitable reduced consumer appetite for travel. The long road to recovery continued throughout 2023.

According to some experts, the industry won’t fully recover until 2024 or later. Despite this, 2023 was a strong year for international travel. According to data from the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international arrivals reached 85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the second quarter of 2023, and 90 per cent in July. “International arrivals are higher than 2022 in all regions across the world and we expect this trend to continue in 2024.

Signs point to continued growth in 2024 and the opportunity for pre-pandemic focus areas to come back into the spotlight for the industry. A spokesperson for UK travel agents’ association ABTA told ITIJ: “It is likely that international travel will continue to grow in 2024, with passenger numbers achieving or surpassing pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, many travel companies are already reporting record numbers for 2023 and healthy interest in forward booking for 2024.”

For many, accelerating digital transformation became a priority during the pandemic, with innovations such as QR scanning, biometric facial recognition and thermal scanning technologies replacing manual processes. This focus continued in 2023 with technology playing a key role in recovery and being seen as paramount to enhancing global travel.

Looking ahead throughout 2024, it is anticipated that technology will continue to be a key driver for change and innovation in travel and tourism. “Digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics will continue to reshape the sector,” stated Messina.

“We expect the widespread adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for immersive travel experiences, allowing travellers to explore destinations from the comfort of their homes before making decisions.”

“Particularly in the simplification of processes through the utilisation of AI and data analytics. As technology continues to evolve, it will reshape how we plan, book and experience travel, and hopefully enhance the overall sustainability in the industry,” he said.

 Sustainability is another current and future focus for the international travel community, and is closely related to innovation, with important targets such as decarbonisation hinging on disruptive technologies, such as zero-emission aircraft and novel sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) technologies.

The global air transport sector welcomes these developments as they provide certainty and vision. Sustainability is not seen as a threat but as an opportunity for new and highly dynamic development, and the technological and operational rethink that decarbonisation requires also presents an opportunity to deeply revolutionise operations as we know them today.”

 Travellers and stakeholders increasingly prioritise sustainable and responsible tourism practices. Embracing sustainability is not just a trend; it’s becoming a fundamental factor that will shape the future of the travel industry.

In addition to embracing eco-friendly practices and harnessing innovation for sustainability, the importance of environmental conservation and responsible tourism can’t be overstated. “Sustainability must be viewed holistically, not just our impact on the environment but ensuring that local people benefit from tourism and that those employed in the industry are paid a decent wage,” an ABTA spokesperson highlighted. Interest among consumers in sustainable accommodation is increasing, with travellers recognising the importance of selecting a responsible hotel brand or opting to stay in sustainable accommodation in order to help reduce their environmental impact.

Considering possible roadblocks for 2024 and beyond, the biggest challenge for the future of international travel will be achieving a sustainable balance between tourism growth and conservation, while also addressing issues related to overtourism and eliminating any negative environmental, cultural or social impacts from tourism activities. While the trajectory is positive, continuous effort, innovation and commitment from the travel and tourism industry as a whole are essential to ensure that tourism benefits both the planet and its inhabitants for generations to come.

It was perhaps inevitable that the travel industry would recover from the unprecedented strain placed upon it by the pandemic but healing isn’t linear and we can likely expect more bumps in the road in 2024. “The fact that travel patterns have resumed in tandem with the lifting of restrictions is proof of the continued social and universal importance of travel generally, with air transport being no exception,” said Raillant-Clark.

As the shadow cast by the pandemic continues to lift, pre-pandemic priorities can come back into focus, with socially, economically and environmentally responsible models of tourism representing a shared interest and technological transformation reshaping the sector. The global travel industry has experienced a real resurgence in 2023 and it will be interesting to see what 2024 brings.

Keep that smile

It’s a good year.

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